The Iaido Journal  Aug 2005
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Review: Persimmon Wind

copyright © 2005 Dave Shannon, all rights reserved

Persimmon Wind by Dave Lowry Persimmon Wind: A Martial Artist's Journey in Japan.
By Dave Lowry
Published by Koryu Books, 2005.
US$26.95 (+$6 shipping).
ISBN: 1-890536-10-5.
288 p. 6" x 9" hardcover.
Special Limited Edition: US$50.00 (+$6 shipping). A web site exclusive; not available at bookstores.

I’d pretty much lost track of Dave Lowry, as an author, in the 15 years or so since his last book Autumn Lightning. In case you missed that one, think Daniel and Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid transported to the early 70's mid-west and studying sword and you’ve pretty much got it.

It’s a little bit difficult to slot his latest offering Persimmon Wind according to genre. The Library of Congress splash on the inside cover suggests Martial Arts or Philosophy. Technically both these subjects are touched on in the book but there is surprisingly little martial arts “action” and it’s just personal opinion but I didn’t feel it had  the  internal continuity to qualify as philosophy. What it really reminded me of was the narration of a slide show or a home movie (those of you who don’t remember  “slides”or ”home movies “, ask your parents). Much of the book has an informal “and this is one of a bear standing by the Grand Canyon that Marg took...”  feel to it.

The story itself is quite interesting. Whereas his first book addressed what I suspect is a fairly common Martial Arts fantasy especially for non-practitioners  i.e. finding the perfect teacher at the perfect time in the most unlikely place;  this one chronicles another fairly common dream that not all of us get to realize, namely, actually visiting Japan and getting to train with old masters in even older dojo (somehow the cachet is never quite the same if these same old masters come to this continent and give seminars at  the local Y).

Lowry writes in a rambling conversational style which is probably intended to be affable but somehow came across (to me at any rate) as being somewhat disingenuous. But make no mistake the book is full of information, although the author seems to have no clear idea of who his target audience is. Some of the history that he goes into is fairly common knowledge. For example anyone who has even vaguely looked at Japanese history is probably aware that Ieyasu
was the first of the Tokugawa Shogun, and  many readers from a Martial Arts background would also be aware that the Yagyu were the official instructors of the Shogunate. Both these points are mentioned in the book and juxtaposed with considerably more esoteric histories, for example there is quite a detailed story of one Miyoshi Nagamoto and his descendants who it turns out were related to his teachers wife, and even an extensive account of the provenance of a Bizen sword that Mr Lowry came across in one of his training sessions.

A lot of the information makes rather less of and impression. I can’t at this point recall the full name of the gentleman who sat next to the author on his flight to Japan, or what is the proper name for those little brocade talismans that are sold at shrines in Japan, even though both these points are dutifully reported in the book. (One of my Sempai actually brought me one of these items this summer and simply referred to it as a “do-dad”. I doubt things would have been much different if he had read Mr. Lowry’s book).
There are many vignettes of everyday events in Japan or, more likely what were once everyday events (he spends much of the book in rural locations where the traditional ways seem to be a little more intact than in the cities). In any case we get to watch as he goes to a traditional bath house, helps haul a center stone into a neighbour’s  garden, and even shopping for underwear in Nara.

Although all these events are interesting in a certain ”Sure he’s only shopping for underwear, but he’s doing it in JAPAN!” sort of way, I was most interested in the parts of the book which dealt with the Martial Arts. I’ve always felt that the more one learns about other schools the more one learns about ones own school. Unfortunately there simply aren’t that many passages that deal with the actual training. Mr Lowry trains in Shinkage ryu, which he sometimes calls Yagyu Shinkage. (I was under the impression that these were originally separate schools but he seems to use the titles somewhat interchangeably).

Once again he seems to take a certain shotgun approach to his audience at times assuming that they have no sword experience at all, and at other times writing as if they were practicing members of a koryu. To be fair he certainly makes no claim at any point that this is an instruction manual, and although certain aspects of the history of his ryu are dealt with quite extensively, I think anyone hoping that this book would contain deep insights into the training and practice of the ryu would come away disappointed .

One thing I did like about the tone of these passages was that even though he is obviously devoted to his teacher and his school, at no point does he make any claim that his school is the ‘one true art of the Samurai’, which is kind of refreshing when so much Martial Art material these days is marketed this way. Like most of us he didn’t choose a school and then a teacher, but joined the school of the first good teacher he could find.

All in all I don’t think I would recommend to any one that they rush out and buy this book, it’s not really what you’d call ‘must read’ material. On the other hand if you come across it at the library someday when you haven’t really got much else to do, I think most people would probably be able to find a couple of scenes that would be of interest.

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TIN Aug 2005